Review by Matthew Hocter
Last year I had the privilege in witnessing the magic created by actor Stefanie Rossi and Producer Tony Knight in the Bakehouse Theatre’s production of “Venus in Fur.” Sadly, The Bakehouse Theatre is no longer, but Rossi and Knight most definitely are and have yet again teamed up for the incredibly powerful and autobiographical What Is the Matter With Mary Jane?
Created in 1995 by the talented and multi-disciplinary artist, Wendy Harmer and using the story of actor, creative and co-writer, Sancia Robinson. What Is The Matter With Mary Jane? explores Robinsons very personal experience with mental illness and the trauma associated with the many facet’s that it brings, along with the psychological battle to regain one’s life.
One of mental illnesses most silent sufferers, Anorexia Nervosa, has long been seen as simply food and/or aesthetically related, often being relegated to the shadows of the mental illness prism. Rossi’s portrayal of Robinson’s heartbreakingly raw and powerful story are given full respect along with the complicated nuances that accompany mental illness, creating an at times uncomfortable look at something far too many have suffered with in silence, and for far too long.
One thing is evident from the moment Rossi takes to the stage at the Holden Street Theatre’s intimate The Studio: her presence. Her commitment to not just her craft but the intricacy of Robinson’s story telling is given full life by way of her movements, both subtle and bombastic as the moment requires, as well as the light and shade in her voice and the emotional input that is needed in telling such an emotional story. The stage is her playground and her audience, sitting with full attention, awaiting each line, as powerful if not more, than the one that came before.
Rossi’s usage of her own name in the play, rather than that of its creator, is something that not only draws the audience in that little bit more, but seems like this story IS somewhat personal. As each new scene begins, a word is written in bold letters on a whiteboard in the centre of the stage, signaling the next step involved with mental illness. One of the final steps, “Excuses,” was incredibly powerful and something that would have hit close to home for anyone that has struggled with an eating disorder.
Rossi and Knight’s adaption of this play took a deep dive into many aspects of the severity surrounding mental illness. The internal struggles with food, distortion of body image and how all of this affects the sufferer, was delivered with an unnerving amount of pain and authenticity, something that Rossi executed with the utmost care. The amount of self hate and neurosis that sadly come with the territory of the sufferer, were again, at times hard to watch, but given ample space to showcase just how complex this disorder truly is.
What Is The Matter With Mary Jane? is not going to be something that everyone could sit through for 70 minutes. If you have suffered from Anorexia, then this could be confronting, even triggering. Even if you haven’t been on the receiving end of the pain and fight that mental health can bring, Rossi’s portrayal will leave you awe struck at her talent and questioning why so many still suffer from this silent killer.